Gambiense human African trypanosomiasis (HAT, sleeping sickness) usually features low prevalence. The two stages of the disease require different treatments, and stage 2 is fatal if untreated. HAT diagnosis must therefore be highly sensitive (i.e., detect as many true cases as possible) and specific (i.e., minimize false positives). HAT diagnostic algorithms are complex and involve several tests to screen for, confirm and stage infection. We analyzed five algorithms used by Médecins Sans Frontières HAT programmes. We combined published data on the accuracy of each test in the algorithm with a computer program that simulates all possible algorithm branches. We found that all algorithms had reasonable sensitivity (85–90%); specificity was high (>99.9%) except for the Republic of Congo, where confirmation did not rely on microscopic evidence, resulting in frequent false positives (but also higher sensitivity). Algorithms misclassified about one third of stage 1 cases as stage 2, but stage 2 classification was highly accurate. The use of serology alone for confirmation merits caution. HAT diagnosis could be made more sensitively by following up serological suspects and repeating microscopic examinations. Computer simulations can help to adapt algorithms to local conditions in each HAT programme, such as the prevalence of infection and operational constraints.
Anon. Accuracy of Five Algorithms to Diagnose Gambiense Human African Trypanosomiasis. PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases (2011) 5 (7) e1233. [DOI: 10.1371/journal.pntd.0001233]